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The deployment of a new technology or a new methodology is probably the most underestimated phase of the general innovation process. But it is the part that is crucial if R&D results are to reach users as innovative products and services that can be easily accessed and used to produce quality and growth. In the field of Learning Design technologies, the products and services are so central to Knowledge Management in companies and organisations, and for the development of a knowledge economy and society, that their deployment should be a priority for any individual, group, organization or Government.
The work on Educational Modeling Languages (Koper 2001), and the subsequent integration in the IMS Learning Design Specification, is the most important initiative to date, to integrate Instructional Design preoccupations in the eLearning Standards movement. In particular, it describes a formal way to represent the structure of a Unit of Learning and the concept of a pedagogical method specifying roles and activities that learners and support persons can play using learning objects.
An implementation process for IMS-LD includes authoring of an LD document (for instance a course), publishing the document into an LD instance or run (a session of the course) and delivering this run (actually executing, taking the course). A deployment process extends the implementation by dealing with issues such as methodological and technical support, formal and informal training and facilitation of organisational change.
The purpose of this report is to explain the following:
Definition of IMS and major components
The concept of learning design
IMS LD specifications & Levels
IMS LD Tools
What is IMS LD?
IMS Learning Design (IMS LD) is a formal pedagogical standard, a (educational modeling language) to describe technology supported pedagogical scenarios based on rich instructional design models. Currently, it represents the most popular formal language to describe learning designs. Some systems with educational design languages can produce IMS LD output. IMS Learning Design as opposed to IMS Simple Sequencing/SCORM focuses on the organization of learning activities.
IMS LD evolved from Educational Markup Language (EML). IMS LD was formally published in 1993. As of April 2008 there is no end-user ready implementation of an authoring tool or a delivery platform. In Europe, several research communities use IMS LD as a basis for various kinds of projects. Since development of reference implementations are continuing, we may expect to see some day a friendly end-user solution à la LAMS. - Daniel K. Schneider 25 April 2008. As of May 2009, there exist some more user friendly tools, e.g. the Recourse editor. However, use of these tools still requires understanding the LD standard and user-friendly players still don't seem to exist.
In IMS LD terminology a pedagogical scenario is called a play. Major components of this design are:
Roles that are performed by learners, teachers, tutors etc.
environments including services (e.g. a forum) and learning resources
The scenario itself is called method and contains play, act and role-parts.
The play is presented in a series of acts, in which roles are played by those taking part, for example learner, tutor, mentor, and so on.
People playing the roles undertake a series of activities within an act. For a learner these might include discussing with classmates the relative merit of a piece of source material. A tutor's activity may be to comment on their conclusions.
Each role is presented with its own learning objects and services (e.g. communication tools) within an activity.
An act is completed after all the activities of a specified role, or roles, are finished. Alternatively, a time limit may be set, after which an act completes.
When one act completes, the next act is started. The play finishes when all the acts are completed; the learning design finishes when all the plays are completed.
(Jeffery and Currier, 2003)
The concept of learning design and models of (e) - learning
Despite its relatively recent appearance in connection with e-learning, this concept of 'designing for learning' is far from being a new idea. In a traditional face-to-face context, many teachers may consciously and reflectively engage in the process of learning design in this general sense as part of everyday lesson planning, whilst other teachers or lecturers may never have given it much thought, but nonetheless make subconscious learning design decisions every time they prepare a teaching session.
Yet, whilst they are hardly groundbreaking new ideas in education, the central ideas behind learning design represent new possibilities for increasing the quality and variety of teaching and learning within an e-learning context:
The first general idea behind learning design is that people learn better when actively involved in doing something (i.e. are engaged in a learning activity).
The second idea is that learning activities may be sequenced or otherwise structured carefully and deliberately in a learning workflow to promote more effective learning.
The third idea is that it would be useful to be able to record 'learning designs' for sharing and re-use in the future.
3.1 Learning Activities
Not all learners are equally capable of effective and efficient learning on their own. Indeed, most if not all, benefit from some level of guidance and support. Successful teaching involves a variety of strategies and techniques for engaging, motivating and energizing students over and above merely presenting them with well-designed learning materials. There are a number of pedagogical techniques that focus on providing activities for learners to perform either in groups or as individuals that help to create deeper, swifter and more effective learning. These may be in the form of discussions, simulations, mimicry, problem-solving exercises, role-plays and quizzes or meta-learning tasks such as construction of mnemonics and mind-maps.
The recent trend within e-learning has been to focus on quite a narrow set of learning activities that can be easily managed within a browser-based VLE: 'read this content', 'do this multi-choice quiz' etc. Part of the aim of learning design is to help broaden the set of activities that are used to support learning in an e-learning context.
Orchestrating Activities - Creating a Learning Workflow
A second feature of successful teaching is not just the creation of thoughtful and engaging activities for students to undertake, but also giving thought to the sequential order and timing of the various activities and the presentation of the resources needed to support them. This orchestration may form a simple sequential flow, and in most cases it will, but there may sometimes be call for a learning design that involves branching of workflow into parallel activities undertaken by sub-groups before coming back together. Or a design may be constructed that allows different routes to be taken based on achievement at a testing stage within a sequence. Thus a second key aspect of tools to support the concept of learning design will be the notion of workflow.
From the teacher's perspective there are two main advantages associated with consciously thinking about the process of designing learning activities. The first is that it provides a framework for teachers to reflect in a deeper and more creative way about how they design and structure activities for different learners or groups of learners and the second is that designs that prove to be effective may then be communicated and shared between teachers or archived for re-use on future occasions.
3.3 Sharing and Re-using Learning Designs
However there is a problem in that it is not so easy to describe a given 'learning design' in a consistent and transferable way that will allow easy re-use. The 'design', 'pattern' or 'recipe' needs to be described at a sufficient level of abstraction that it can be generalized beyond the single teaching and learning context for which it is created, but not at such an abstract level that the pedagogical value and richness is lost. This problem is exacerbated when we begin to think about creating, transporting and re-using learning designs in electronic learning environments. It is this problem that IMS-LD is intended to solve. A learning design that conforms to the IMS-LD specification
Whilst the benefits of engaging in the process of learning design exist regardless of the mode of delivery (electronic or face to face), they are particularly relevant to e-learning, which, unlike traditional face-to-face learning, has tended to focus on content and services at the expense of learning (inter)actions. Whereas instructional design in e-learning has focused predominantly on learning objects as the core entity within a course or other programmed of learning, learning design, as we have seen, is centered on learning activities. The underlying reason for this shift in emphasis is the feeling amongst many educators that the learning objects approach places too much emphasis on content delivery rather than looking more carefully at what learners do. Also software environments for learning (VLEs) have been designed to cater for this rather simplistic content-delivery model at the expense of a variety of pedagogical models that are built around collaborative activity on the part of learners. Whilst good and well structured content is undeniably important in creating a quality course, also important are the tasks, activities and dynamic interactions that occur between people (learners and teachers) and the software environment there is no means to encode these features of learning and teaching within the prevailing content-based model.
IMS Learning Design Specification
The aim of the IMS Learning Design Specification is to provide a model within which to describe the structure of tasks and activities, their assignment to roles, and the workflow of a unit of learning as a 'learning design', and also to provide a platform-independent notational convention to allow sharing and re-use of these designs.
What we have outlined above are in effect two related but independent ideas that affect the creation of software tools to support learning design. The first is the general concept of learning design (activities, collaboration, workflow etc.) and the second is the particular instantiation of that concept in the IMS Learning Design specification (IMS-LD). It is important to understand that the two ideas need to be treated separately in reviewing software tools in this field, since some of them are aimed at implementing the IMS-LD specification, whilst others may not implement the specification yet they do embody their own model of learning design, albeit one that is not necessarily transferable between systems. Also, since the IMS-LD specification is still evolving, some software designers are reluctant to adapt their software to conform to the specification in its current form, preferring to adopt a 'wait and see' stance.
4.1 Overview of the IMS - LD Specification
The main reason for implementing a standard for Learning Design is to make digital information encoding learning designs consistent and thus both transportable and re-usable in different software packages.
The IMS Learning Design Specification (IMS-LD) consists of three interrelated documents in common with all IMS specifications:
XML Binding Document
Best Practice Guide
The XML Binding Document is a technical document detailing how learning design elements are represented in xml and does not need to be addressed here. It is perhaps useful, however, to reiterate at this point that the aim of IMS-LD is to provide a specification of the elements and structure of Units of Learning as conceived in EML. This specification is provided in XML format, which is a platform-independent web-standard notation for describing arbitrary structured data. This means that the 'Learning Design', encoded in XML, can be read by any runtime environment that can read the XML description.
A second point that it is important to be clear about is that IMS Learning Design is designed to work together with IMS content packaging as Learning Design does not itself specify information about content. The way the relationship is expressed in the Information Model for Learning Design is that the aim of Learning Design is, as we have said, to model Units of Learning, so:
A Unit of Learning = IMS Content Package + IMS Learning Design.
Technically this is achieved by including Learning Design elements within the manifest of a content package.
What we are interested in here is outlining how the IMS-LD specification is intended to add value to teaching and learning practice in e-learning, this information is provided using the Best Practice Guide and the Information Model as our source.
4.2 The Levels of Learning Design in IMS-LD
There are currently three levels of Learning Design that have been formulated by the IMS-LD Working Group:
Level A: This includes all the elements outlined in the previous section. The main added value to e-learning of Level A learning design is that it defines Activities and Roles as reusable components that can be designed into a workflow using the Method element. It also allows Services such as email and conferencing to be specified at design time as placeholders within the design that will be instantiated by the run-time system. These features are a qualitative difference from IMS content-packaging and SCORM, which include no concept of activities or roles and only work with content so that when they are included in a VLE are completely divorced from discussions or other collaborative tasks.
Level B: This allows the inclusion of properties and conditions. Two types of property have been proposed: Internal and External. The addition of external properties is important for adaptation to the design based on properties of the individual learner such as may be provided by the Accessibility and IMS-LIP specifications. This means that activities and activity sequences could potentially be adapted to suit the needs and preferences of individual learners
Level C: This provides a notification capability that allows messaging between system components and means the flow of events could be adapted at run-time based on event triggers such as completion of earlier tasks. This paves the way for adaptive sequencing capabilities as well as role-play and event-driven simulations.
4.3 Building a Learning Design
The Best Practice Guide describes a sequence of steps that characterize the development of a learning design for a unit of learning:
1. The first task is to analyze a specific educational problem as a use case and then turn it into a scenario describing the learning objectives and tasks or activities establishing the basic order of events that can be captured in a narrative form.
2. It is suggested in the Best Practice Guide that the narrative is then cast into UML activity diagram. This UML diagram then forms the basis for creating the XML document that implements the IMS-LD spec
3. Then the actual content (resources) can be created and finally a content package can be created that incorporates the learning design.
Table 1 below distinguishes the various activities involved in the process of learning design and how each of those stages is handled within IMS-LD.
Learning Design Process
Define Learning Objectives
Specify Learning Objectives
Develop narrative description of learning and teaching scenario
Not defined within current scope
Create learning activity workflow from Narrative description
Create a Method using Play, Acts and Role-Parts
Assign resources, tools and people to activities
Specify Roles, Resources Environment and Services
Use a Learning Design aware player
Learner support and on-the-fly adaptation
Reflecting (including sharing outputs for peer reflection)
Table 1. Key Activities in Learning Design
This outline of the process of creating a learning design illustrates very well the need for software tools to be developed in order for ordinary teachers to engage with this process. Even if teachers were used to developing scenarios in narrative form (as many are not), very few would contemplate turning these into UML diagrams and then IMS-LD conformant XML.
Software tools are needed that will support the authoring of learning designs and tools are needed to play learning designs in a run-time environment.
5.1 IMS LD Authoring tools
In May 2009, IMS Learning design is a format used in many R&D projects (and many of these with EC funding). However, IMS Learning Design still does not seem too deployed at larger scale. In particular, we didn't find any stable, user-friendly and easy to install LD runtime environment. The only popular Learning design system environment seems to be LAMS (but it is not based IMS LD)
Griffith et al. (2005) defined two dimensions with respect to LD tool design. They allow defining four types of tools. The two dimensions are:
Close to specification - distant from specification
General purpose tools - specific purpose tools
Below i reproduced a figure found in Oberhuemer (2008) that we annotated with some LD authoring tools.
Source: Oberhuemer (2008)
Interestingly, their classification is somewhat pessimistic in several ways. E.g. it implies that typical teachers are not supposed to learn a general purpose LD tool anytime. Useful tools for course authors seem to be distant from the specification, in the sense that "real" users should not understand IMS LD and that their designs are just compiled into IMS LD. If such tools could import (and not just export IMS LD) IMS LD would turn into a sort of "assembly" language of pedagogical design, but this rises the questions of how designs could be described with a common high-level language in order to promote exchange, i.e. why we should still need a "mid-level" language like IMS LD. Distinguishing between general purpose tools and specific tools (e.g. a CSCL tool like Collage) does maybe make sense, but maybe not, since one would want to be able to author with the same tool several types of activities within a larger course-level design. Some questions for which we don't see an answer at this time - Daniel K. Schneider 10:11, 27 May 2009 (UTC).